12 Must-Try Outdoor Activities In Japan



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A country renowned for its rich cultural heritage and breathtaking landscapes, Japan offers an array of outdoor activities catering to every kind of adventurer.

From the snow-capped peaks of Hokkaido to the subtropical beaches of Okinawa, the diversity of Japan's natural beauty is unmatched. 

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Best Outdoor Activities in Japan The Real Japan

12 Must-Try Outdoor Activities in Japan
by Rob Dyer

Outdoor activities in Japan - experience wonders of nature

For those who crave excitement or cherish the beauty of the outdoors, Japan's adventures ensure memories that last a lifetime. As you organise your Japan shore excursions, include a selection of these essential activities to truly experience Japan's awe-inspiring wonders of nature.

1. Hiking the majestic Japanese Alps and Mt. Fuji

The diverse terrain of the Japanese Alps, stretching across the central part of Honshu, Japan's main island, is a dream destination for hikers around the world. This majestic mountain range is divided into three sections: the Northern, Central, and Southern Alps, each offering its unique landscapes and challenges.

hiking mt fuji outdoor activities Japan The Real Japan

Climbing Mt. Fuji is a bucket-list experience for many hikers, but far from the only option in Japan

Outside of the Japanese Alps, climbing Mount Fuji is a bucket-list experience for many hikers. 

The official climbing season typically runs from early July to early September, when the weather is milder, and the mountain huts are open. The climb is challenging but reaching the summit in time to witness the sunrise, known as 'Goraiko,' is an inspiring experience that rewards hikers with spectacular views and a profound sense of achievement.

SEE ALSO: Hiking and Trekking The Japan Alps and Mount Fuji (Book Review)

2. Skiing and snowboarding in Hokkaido

Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, is a prime destination for skiing and snowboarding, renowned for its powdery snow and world-class ski resorts. The island's unique climate results in consistent, high-quality powder snow, making it a haven for winter sports enthusiasts. 

skiing Niseko Hokkaido outdoor activities Japan

Niseko in Hokkaido is famous for its interconnected ski areas and night skiing

Key destinations like Niseko, Rusutsu, and Furano offer a range of slopes suitable for all skill levels. Niseko is famous for its interconnected ski areas and night skiing, while Rusutsu for its well-groomed runs and family-friendly atmosphere, and Furano for its panoramic mountain views and less crowded slopes.

If you're staying in Sapporo, and an intermediate skier, you can get expert instruction at Sapporo International Ski Resort focusing on skill improvement and including gear, clothing and private transfer from your hotel.

SEE ALSO: Discover Hokkaido - Island Guide

3. Cycling the Shimanami Kaido

Experience Japan's rich culture and scenic landscapes by cycling the Shimanami Kaido, a 70-kilometer cycling route connecting the Seto Inland Sea islands. This well-maintained route takes you across seven bridges, offering stunning sea and lush countryside views. Viator offers a range of cycling tours of the Shimanami Kaido ranging from 3 hours to a couple of days in length.

Shimanami Kaido Shikoku cycling route outdoor activities The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Shikoku's dramatic Shimanami Kaido cycle route spans seven bridges and covers 70km

Along the way, you can explore charming towns, sample local cuisine, and visit art installations that dot the path. Rent a bicycle and embark on a leisurely ride, making memories that will last a lifetime. Feel too tired at the end of your journey to cycle back? Cheat and use one of the ferries that will carry both you and your bikes back to the mainland!

VIDEO: Hiking Kyoto: Himukai Daijingu Shrine & Ama no Iwato Cave

4. Rafting on the Yoshino River

Rafting on the Yoshino River in the scenic region of Shikoku is an adrenaline-packed adventure that will leave your heart racing and your spirits soaring. With its rugged and unspoiled landscape, the Yoshino River provides the perfect backdrop for this thrilling white-water experience.  

Yoshino River rafting outdoor activities Japan JNTO

White-water rafting on Shikoku's Yoshino River is a exhilarating way to explore Japan's landscape

As you navigate the river's rapids, you'll find yourself surrounded by a lush canopy of greenery, creating a surreal and immersive natural setting. Towering cliffs rise on either side, adding an element of drama to the journey that will keep your eyes wide open.

SEE ALSO: Discover Shikoku - Island Guide

5. Exploring the Aso volcano

Discover the power of nature by exploring the Aso Volcano in Kyushu, one of the world's largest volcanic calderas, and surely among Japan's most spectacular and breathtaking natural sights. Hike up to the rim for panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and the active Nakadake crater. 

Kohji Asakawa Aso Kyushu The Real Japan

The Aso Volcano and caldera in the southern island of Kyushu is one of Japan's most breathtaking natural sights

Keep an eye on the volcanic activity, as Aso is known for its occasional eruptions. This area's unique geology and natural beauty make it a remarkable destination for outdoor and geology enthusiasts alike. By far the easiest way to see this jaw-dropping natural sight is to book a private half-day tour that includes transportation and lunch.

SEE ALSO: Discover Kyushu - Island Guide

6. Canyoning in the Japanese wilderness

Yakushima, a southern island in Kagoshima Prefecture, is well-known for its lush vegetation and ancient temperate forest (a natural World Heritage Site since 1993). Its a perfect location for outdoor activities. 

Yakushima Island Kyushu The Real Japan

Yakushima Island's ancient forest has been unchanged for centuries 

One of the most popular canyoning locations in Yakushima is the Anbo River Canyon. This stunning location boasts narrow canyons, clear water pools, and thrilling waterfalls, making the Anbo River an ideal spot for canyoning adventures.

Fortunately, highly trained guides on the island are well-versed in navigating these pristine canyons and ensuring the safety of participants, making it suitable for both beginners and experienced canyoneers.

7. Cherry blossom viewing 

Visiting Japan during cherry blossom season (sakura) is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Typically occurring in spring, from late March to early April, this natural spectacle transforms the country into a sea of delicate pink and white blossoms. 

sakura Ueno Park Tokyo outdoor activities The Real Japan

Sakura in Tokyo's Ueno Park: nature contrasting with man-made cityscape

Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, is a beloved tradition where people gather in parks and gardens to enjoy picnics beneath the blooming trees. Some of the most famous spots for Hanami include Tokyo's Ueno Park, Kyoto's Maruyama Park, and the Philosopher's Path. This serene and visually stunning activity lets you simultaneously connect with nature and Japanese culture.

SEE ALSO: Sakura: Beautiful Cherry Blossom Festivals In Japan

8. Kayaking in The Sea Of Japan

The Sea of Japan, with its rugged coastline and calm waters, is an ideal destination for kayaking. Explore secluded coves, dramatic sea caves, and remote islands while paddling through crystal-clear waters. 

kayaking sea of japan The Real Japan

Kayaking in the picturesque Sea of Japan is a peaceful to connect with Japan's natural world

You can rent kayaks and equipment in coastal towns like Wajima, Noto and around Wakasa Bay, which provide an excellent starting point for your aquatic adventure. The peacefulness of kayaking in this picturesque setting allows you to connect with the natural world and experience Japan's coastline from a unique perspective.

SEE ALSO: Kayaking and Trekking on Iriomote Island

VIDEO: Kayaking and Trekking on Iriomote Island, Okinawa

9. Bird watching in the Kushiro Marshland

For bird enthusiasts, the Kushiro Marshland in Hokkaido is a paradise. This extensive wetland is a crucial habitat for various bird species, including the iconic, red-crowned cranes. Visit the Kushiro Shitsugen National Park to observe these majestic creatures in their natural environment. 

red crowned cranes Kushio Hokkaido The Real Japan

A symbol of Japan, the red crowned cranes in Kushiro Shitsugen National Park are a majestic sight

Guided tours are available to ensure you have the best opportunity to spot the diverse bird life that calls this marshland home. Bird watching in Kushiro offers a peaceful and educational outdoor experience, making it a must-try activity for nature lovers.

10. Trekking the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trails

For those seeking a spiritual and physical journey, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails in the Kii Peninsula offer a unique hiking experience. Pilgrims have used these ancient routes to visit the sacred Kumano Sanzan shrines for over a thousand years.  

Hiking a section of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail with my wife

Choose from several trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels, each offering stunning forested landscapes, tranquil waterfalls, and culturally significant sites. The Kumano Hongu Heritage Centre in Tanabe makes for a useful starting point for trails and is close to the huge Oyunohara Otorii - the largest torii shrine gate in the world.

Walking the Kumano Kodo is a physical challenge and a cultural and spiritual adventure, providing a profound connection to Japan's rich history.

11. Horseback riding in Kyushu's countryside

Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's main islands, boasts picturesque countryside perfect for horseback riding. Saddle up and explore the scenic landscapes, quaint villages, and historic ruins that define this region. 

Kyushu countryside outdoor activities The Real Japan

Kyushu's scenic landscape makes it ideal for horse riding

Ride through lush green fields, traverse wooded trails, and enjoy a beach ride along Kyushu's coastline. Professional equestrian centres offer guided horseback riding experiences suitable for riders of all levels, making it an accessible and enjoyable outdoor activity.

If you're fond of horses but not riding, then you might like to see rare Tokara horses at Hirakawa Zoological Park. The Tokara is a Japanese horse native to the Tokara Islands, a group of islands in Kagoshima prefecture.

SEE ALSO: 5 Days In Kyushu: An Unforgettable Itinerary

12. Diving in Okinawa's crystal clear waters

Diving in Okinawa's crystal-clear waters offers an unparalleled underwater adventure in the southernmost region of Japan. This tropical paradise beckons certified divers and novices to explore its vibrant coral reefs, exotic marine life, and stunning underwater landscapes. 

Rob Dyer snorkeling Okinawa The Real Japan

Diving or snorkelling in the crystal clear seas around Okinawa creates some indelible memories - me doing just that back in 2010

Okinawa's warm waters ensure comfortable diving year-round. At the same time, its exceptional visibility allows divers to witness the vibrant colours of coral formations and encounter a diverse array of marine species, from colourful fish to graceful sea turtles.

If, like me, you're not quite up to diving then snorkelling is an easier option that gives you much of the same access to Okinawa's underseas wonders. That's me snorkelling in Okinawa back in 2010 in the photo above.

SEE ALSO: Discover Okinawa: Japan's Subtropical Island Paradise

Conclusion: adventure or relaxation, Japan has it all

Japan's diverse landscapes and rich culture offer an array of outdoor activities that cater to all tastes and skill levels. Whether you're seeking adventure, relaxation, or a combination of both, Japan's natural wonders and outdoor pursuits await your exploration. So, when planning your Japan excursions, take advantage of the chance to immerse yourself in some of these must-try outdoor experiences.

Rob Dyer The Real Japan

About the Author

A writer and publisher from England, Rob has been exploring Japan’s islands since 2000. He specialises in travelling off the beaten track, whether on remote atolls or in the hidden streets of major cities. He’s the founder of TheRealJapan.com.


Best Outdoor Activities in Japan The Real Japan

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